Jim Henderson / Eyewitness Sports Director
NEW ORLEANS -- Archie and Olivia Manning have just celebrated their 40th anniversary, which nearly coincides with the 40th anniversary of his selection by the New Orleans Saints in the 1971 draft.
He tied the knot with them one week after tying the knot with Olivia. The love has been a reciprocal and enduring one for all.
I recently sat down with Archie to reflect on that time and how times have changed with the NFL Draft. It's remarkable that he can recall so many details at his age. I mean, this is a guy who's so old he was scouted by Mel Kiper, Sr.
“What did they scout? I think they just watched the film. And they said, ‘what did you run for the scouts?’ I didn’t run anything for the scouts. I never saw a scout. I guess they came to our practice maybe during the course of the fall, but I played in the Gator Bowl Jan. 2, and so I went to Hawaii, got married, came back. So they just did it off film.”
The film at that time projected a motherload of draftable quarterbacks 40 years ago. Jim Plunkett, Manning and Dan Pastorini went 1-2-3 to the Patriots, Saints and Oilers. The Oilers even took a quarterback with their next pick in Lynn Dickey. In subsequent rounds, the likes of Ken Anderson and Joe Theismann were drafted.
There was no combine then through which prospects passed, identifying impurities.
“No interviews. No 40 times. No throwing in front of no Pro Day, no anything,” Manning said. “It was different, much, much different. When you see what they do today you should say they should never miss. But obviously there were always the misses.”
But the Manning’s have never been one of them, or two of them, or three of them. Archie the second pick the first round, Payton the first in the first, and Eli the first in the first.
The strong-willed Payton had told the Colts he wasn’t coming to New York for the telecast of the first round unless they told him beforehand he was their selection. He wasn’t going to sit through another second-place finish there to Ryan Leaf, as he had been in the Heisman to Charles Woodson.
When Archie interceded, the Colts gave Payton that assurance beforehand, and he went.
A subsequent intercession on Eli’s behalf was less pleasant. Archie had done due diligence in Eli’s behalf. Even insiders within the Chargers warned Archie of the organization’s shortcomings and advised that his son would be better off elsewhere. The Chargers took Eli with the stipulation he would be traded to the Giants for Phillip Rivers.
Archie was seen by some critics as manipulative and a stage father.
“In Eli’s situation, that was real bizarre. I don’t want to go through that again. That was one of the worst days of my life, going to New York with all that San Diego stuff, but it worked out,” Archie said. “We’ve been blessed.”
It all worked out wonderfully for everyone. His sons left the south to find success; their father created his own here. He was never his team’s savior, but he’s been in some ways his city’s savior. He could have left, but didn’t; when others would, he wouldn’t.
“If you gonna go to a bad team, might as well be close to home. And, yeah, I was excited to get picked by the Saints and be that close and friends from Mississippi could come see me play. And I didn’t know much about New Orleans. I never been here but twice. I played in the Sugar Bowl, had a great time there. Played maybe one more time. So I was excited, just got married, moved down here.
“40 years later, we’re still here. They haven’t run me off yet.”
And it's unlikely that they ever will.